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NETL Awards Six Unconventional Shale Research Projects More Funding

Six projects underway at four national laboratories, which are delving into processes used to extract oil and natural gas from unconventional shale reservoirs, have received more funding by federal officials.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), in announcing the two-year awards Monday to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facilities, said the projects would "advance fundamental shale research." Recent technology advancements have unlocked vast quantities of oil and natural gas in low-permeability shale formations, but "the full development of these resources, which are critical to our nation's energy future, have presented unique challenges. With recovery efficiencies at less than 30% for natural gas and 10% for oil, as well as environmental concerns related to development practices, continued research is needed."

The six projects originally had been selected in 2014 for funding over 18 months in response to NETL's Fundamentals of Unconventional Reservoirs Lab Call. In total they received $3.6 million in funding. However, based on their "merits," the projects now have another two years to investigate and are to receive a total of $4.8 million.

"These projects leverage the unique capabilities of DOE's national laboratory system to address critical knowledge gaps in unconventional resource development -- a key step in enabling safe, efficient and environmentally responsible production of these resources," NETL said. Because of the "interrelated nature of the projects," the national laboratories would collaborate with each other and with NETL's Research and Innovation Center.

Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) received funding for three of the six projects. One project is investigating the permeability of fractures in natural gas formations and how various proppants impact the sustainability of underdeveloped shale reservoirs. LBNL also is evaluating water adsorption onto shale surfaces to better understand factors that control the potential blocking/constriction of flow pathways for oil and gas recovery. Additional research into water adsorption also is to evaluate the influence of fracturing fluids that are not water-based.

The third LBNL project is addressing challenges associated with producing low-viscosity oil from tight shale systems. Using laboratory investigations and computational simulations, the team plans to evaluate factors involved in hydrocarbon production from tight systems and identify methods that improve recovery of low-viscosity liquids.

Los Alamos National Laboratory was given the green light to use experimental and computational tools to investigate fracturing processes to better understand shale fracture properties, fracture performance and methods to specifically target features within the systems. Sandia National Laboratories plans to build on prior research to further define component interaction and flow in shale pores to develop a fluid model for natural gas release and recovery from shale formations. The new model would be combined with an existing simulation tool to predict production from shale reservoirs.

Also awarded more funding is the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center's National Accelerator Laboratory. The lab plans to investigate how fracturing fluids induce damaged zones in shale formations to provide a better understanding of the interaction of fluids with shale.

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